Editor’s Note: Big thanks to Geoff May for contributing this article about the recently-launched Dr. Pepper marketing campaign. Geoff is a former ARGNet staff writer, and we are thankful for this timely article.
Is there a drink you’d be willing to purchase and drink for a full month to get the chance to win up to $1,000,000? What if it weren’t a matter of chance, but of skill and problem solving?
Recently, Cadbury Schweppes PLC ran a marketing campaign for the Dr.Pepper brand that would take its followers potentially to every corner of North America (and beyond), both physically and virtually. Dr.Pepper’s “The Hunt For More” campaign could be considered a great success, though YMMV. Following the marketing theme of Dr.Pepper’s unique 23 flavored pop, the ‘Hunt’ campaign would get people all over the US and Canada hunting down 23 physical coins for guaranteed $$$ – ultimately ending in a flurry of controversial press.
Over the course of 30 days from Jan 21 to Feb 21, Dr.Pepper bottles were disappearing off shelves faster than usual, making it a hunt in itself to find them before they disappeared, and not every store carrying the brand had the specially labeled bottles. It was a frantic race for players to have a unique code in their possession every day, and it was a lot of pop to drink.
The clue portion of the hunt was very much a game of skill. There was no luck involved or random draw – just be the first to either find your region’s physical coin, or report the location of the virtual one. To balance this game of skill, players were also given the option to use the code not to retrieve a clue, but for a chance to win an instant prize.
For this contest, North America was split into 23 regions, and within each region a physical coin would be hidden any time up to and including the final day of clues. Based on your zip code when signing up for the contest, you would receive 2 clues for each code entered – a clue for the coin hidden in your region, and a clue for one virtual coin that all players could search for. The virtual coin could be claimed not by finding a physical coin, but by being the first to report its location via a toll free number once it was revealed (about the same time as the physical coins being placed).
Each coin (including the virtual, numbering 24 in total) was assigned a guaranteed value between $10,000 and $1,000,000. Instant win prizes included gift certificates ranging from $12.50 to $75. Much more incentive for the hunt, wouldn’t you think?
Well, people bought, people played, people riddled… It all seemed fun and dandy until zero hour arrived: the dropping of the physical coins – except no one knew precisely when that was. You see, the rules stated that the coins “may not be placed until Feb 21st”, the day of the last clue. Therein lies the first problem. Should you travel and search where you think it is right away? If you don’t find anything, it could be for one of three reasons: You had the wrong location, the coin hadn’t been dropped yet, or the coin had already been found. Only 3 explanations, right? Well, within a day or two before the last clue, those reasons had exploded into frustrations, anger, finger-pointing, insults, even some boycotting of Dr.Pepper products.
On top of that, it was discovered that there were potential difficulties in some coin placements themselves. Taking the spotlight was the coin placed in Boston. The clues apparently pointed to Benjamin Franklin’s family, Crypt 96 at the Granary Burying Ground. After the coin had been placed, the cemetery was closed because of icy conditions. Soon after, groups of people began meandering around, even called the officials demanding it be reopened. Law enforcement got a little ticked off at the situation, and with the recent uproar involving the Aqua Teen Hunger Force viral campaign, they weren’t about to budge and let people into the area (the rules also included that players should not enter locked areas). The legal repercussions of this hindrance will most likely be felt up to Dr.Pepper itself from Boston. The issue and potential arose for people purposely trespassing and breaking laws in order to find the coin. Dr.Pepper quickly ended the Boston hunt along with the rest of hunt once all the coins were found. All those registered in Boston who received clues were entered into a draw to win the $10,000 value of the coin.
There was even suspicion with the virtual coin hunt: supposedly shortly after the phone number was released (some say within 15 minutes), and with still 3 clues to go, someone had called and correctly located the virtual coin to a precise spot. To be clear, the clues at that point only narrowed the position down to within up to a mile. Because of the nearly immediate claim, people started crying foul, that there was a leak or some level of cheating going on.
Before Dr.Pepper had posted the locations and values of all the coins, the validity of any coin findings were under debate, as no one had guaranteed confirmation that coins have been found other than by word of mouth, or through unverifiable claims from essentially random people. Dr.Pepper had also stated that they wouldn’t say inform anyone until all the coins have been officially claimed. Until Dr.Pepper closed the hunt, people were still driving and traveling to coin locations with the tiny glimmer of hope that their coin hadn’t yet been found.
With the backlash that seem to have befallen Dr.Pepper that spawned from various participants, was there anything that could have been done better or cleaner? Or were these just unavoidable flaws due to the mechanics of the contest itself?
One also needs to remember that the promotion is being run not by Dr.Pepper directly, but handled by numerous marketing firms – SoftCoin Inc., Circle One Marketing, and Promotion Watch.
Here are some remaining positive and critical thoughts from an ARGer’s perspective…
- For this contest, quality riddles were created, and the amount work put into locating and describing drop points was quite impressive. The hunt itself was highly educational – people had to research clues for regions, cities, historic events, people, etc. There was even a (small) bit of cryptology.
- More care could have been taken in choosing ‘safe’ drop points – both for local laws and bylaws, neighborhood safety, accuracy for the clues… though in a contest of this nature, the promoter can’t force proper etiquette of its players beyond strongly emphasizing respectful behavior. These gameplay mechanics can raise problematic legal implications.
- Because each coin was tagged with a value anywhere between $10,000 and $1,000,000, every coin itself then became worth at least $10,000 – a guaranteed win if you had the physical coin, and literally $10,000 or more in your pocket. That’s something that is begging for potential danger to personal safety for the finder of the coin, let alone possible conflict among players.
- Hotline operators were given a specific task, but otherwise it seems were kept in the dark about common, but specific details — however, they weren’t informed on how to deal with questions they didn’t know answers to, or they were given incorrect information to respond with. They repeatedly informed players to ‘check the website’, but no updates were made there at all. Conflicting responses were given to players inquiring about results. Increasing amounts of ‘I don’t know’ responses were given to callers, fueling frustration and disappointment in the system and the organizers.
- The campaign, while entertaining for the most part, didn’t necessarily encourage people to enjoy the drink, or change their opinions about the drink itself – at least positively. For the span of this contest, certainly sales of Dr.Pepper rose dramatically, but the increase of loyal customers after the contest will likely be offset, if not overcome, by the loss of customers due to either negative experiences, or simply too much Dr.Pepper. But the point still remains: Any press is good press.
This most significant point, however, I feel was vastly overlooked from a marketing standpoint: there was an amazing opportunity to create an interactive plot with the ‘treasure hunt’ theme, and offer a deeper experience in the realm of viral marketing and *cough* alternate reality games. Providing a more coherent viral component may even have encouraged others to excitedly spread the word and get others involved, rather than actually creating a contest with a gameplay style that inherently encourages people to keep quiet. The reason for hiding of the coins and having people hunt for them had so much potential to tell a story, have a deeper background and history, and even educate and entertain people about the Dr.Pepper brand and history itself. All of that – totally missed.
At the closing of the contest, all locations and values were placed on Dr.Pepper’s website. The $1,000,000 coin was located in Houston, TX, with both the Boston coin and Virtual coin valued at the minimal $10,000. The legal implications of the Boston coin are impending, and Boston.com has since published multiple articles about the issue.
In the end, as a loyal fan of Dr.Pepper, my purchasing habit for the pop won’t change. My skepticism of the ability of the marketing firms doing the promotion has increased because of the easily avoidable frustrations people met with near the end. Though, to their credit, the task at hand was not a small one, and they deserve respect for the attempt and for what they did accomplish, whether an ultimately successful marketing campaign or not. My opinion of Dr.Pepper, the brand and organization, hasn’t changed – they’re exactly the same company with exactly the same drink, which I personally enjoy. I do, however, strongly feel that a HUGE opportunity was missed with this campaign. Interestingly enough, certain aspects could be compared to Microsoft’s Windows Vista campaign Vanishing Point in the area of offering a contest requiring skill, while at the same time including an underlying back story and contest with a developed character and plot. So, where Microsoft (YMMV) got it right, Dr.Pepper missed out.
Ultimately, after this “Hunt For More” campaign, one opinion seems to be shared among many players – they’ll be hunting for less Dr.Pepper than when they started.